If there is a single American that has not heard of the Fifty Shades of Grey series by now, they must be living under a rock.
Since it was released in 2011, it seems to have taken the US by storm, giving way to rising sales of beginner’s bondage kits and new terminology such as “mommy porn.” For those who are not aware (i.e. all you Patrick Star types, under-rock dwellers) Fifty Shades of Grey is the story of the unconventional “romance” of the virginal Ana Steele and the exceedingly wealthy and miserable Christian Grey. The author E.L. James maintains that the earliest conception of this series was based on a Twilight fanfiction she wrote, but I think it rather obvious that it is literally Twilight in witness protection (minus the teeth, new names, and some soft core porn for good measure).
If you happened to read Fifty Shades and you were a Twilight reader at one point or another, you will know that the ghost of that series is alive and well within these pages (or if you’re like me and wanted to hide it, your Kindle app). As a former “Twi-Hard,” I was an avid fan of the Twilight series from my freshman year of high school until my junior year. As I was hitting adulthood, sexual maturity, and all that jazz, Fifty Shades was hitting its peak of popularity (at least, until the movie came out this year). In the three years since I first read Fifty Shades, the public has gone through a wide variety of responses similar to the stages of grief.
Why Is Fifty Shades So Popular?
This question has people everywhere scratching their head. Why is it so popular when its critics are the loudest voices heard? I will be the first to admit, I absolutely love a trashy romance. So when I saw the movie was coming out, I decided to read the first novel again (despite my less-than-enthusiastic response from the first time I read it), followed by the other two. What could go wrong, right?
Honestly, I had forgotten how poorly these books were (in my opinion) written. Naturally Fifty Shades has been made popular by the haters – they’ve made others more curious as to what the big deal was. It is not uncommon to hear women say it brought something new to their sex life after many years of marriage. I’ve heard for younger age groups it is everything they want in a light read. The romantic flair of fanfiction? Check. The ever mysterious tall, dark and handsome love interest? Check. The girl next door who is someone every reader can connect with? Check.
Fifty Shades also seemed to break down the clichés and the horror people seem to experience at the very mention of BDSM culture for a time, leading to a booming trade of Fifty Shades beginner’s bondage kits containing the silver tie, blindfold and even floggers. Some critics, however, state that this series better defined the difference between “vanilla” sex and “kink.”
Why Is It So Controversial?
What it all comes down to: Fifty shades of sexy or fifty shades of abuse? There are a great deal of quotes in this novel that are questionable. The relationship itself is questionable. The first time I read it, I thought Seriously? What the heck? But the second time around I will admit I let myself get taken away by the drama of the relationship, so I let a fair few of the comments slide.
But honestly, if a friend of mine were in a relationship such as this, I would have some serious concerns. First reason? It is my opinion that the character is using the BDSM as a crutch so as not to face the abuse the endured as a child. He does not trust and he is angry; it is my understanding that these are two traits that would not make for a healthy BDSM relationship.
Trust is huge when you’re discussing dominance and submission, and consent is key. When involving yourself in activities that can be very intense, both partners must trust each other to have confidence and competence. I feel that this novel made a mockery of something that is, at its core, quite beautiful. “Vanilla” sex and BDSM both function under the same basic principle: trust.
What I Learned
Would I recommend this novel? Not particularly. Though the romance has brought a light-hearted reaction to many audiences, the blatant disregard for consent is troubling. I don’t like how everything is played off at the end as “she fixed him, so everything must be okay.” It seems to be a reoccurring theme in media that a romance between a kind woman and a total jerk is automatically made okay when she brings him away from the dark side for true love.
I would never want my daughter to have such unrealistic expectations, nor would I want to have such unrealistic expectations for my own dating life. If I ever dated a Christian Grey I would kick him to the curb so fast it would make his head spin.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.